Monday, May 15, 2017

REVIEW: 'Better Call Saul' - Jimmy Creates a New Identity Which Is Very Familiar in 'Off Brand'

AMC's Better Call Saul - Episode 3.06 "Off Brand"

Jimmy has a new endeavor. Chuck pushes himself to the limit. Nacho finds himself in a power struggle.

"Off Brand" is more of a piece-moving episode of Better Call Saul. It's small and low key compared to the courtroom theatrics of last week's episode. This hour is very contemplative as it focuses on the characters reflecting on what's going to happen in their respective futures. Everything came to a head in the courtroom. These characters have passed the point of no return. They can continue down the same path while holding onto their resentment and anger over the past. Or they could try to find a way forward that will lead to a more enriching life for them personally. Of course, it's not as simple as deciding to let all of this go. The rift between the McGill brothers now seems irreversible. They're both feeling the consequences of this war as they map out what happens next in their lives. How much does the court's ruling change their lives? There is the desire for it be very minuscule. This doesn't have to be the thing that completely changes everything they've worked so hard for. But alas, it is. They can't deny that. The consequences could have been so much worse. Both Jimmy and Chuck could have been disbarred. They aren't. They survive even though their dynamic has changed completely once more.

And yet, this hour simply can't be written off as a transitional hour of the show that is just setting things up for the remainder of the season. That quality is there in abundance. But it's a very pivotal episode in its own right as well. One of the biggest mysteries of the show is: when does Jimmy McGill become Saul Goodman? The audience knows that it's destined to happen. Just like we know Mike will one day work for Gus and Nacho will remain important in the drug game until the events of Breaking Bad. But the precise circumstances behind those details are mysteries. Would Jimmy become Saul after his return to his Slippin' Jimmy ways at the end of the first season? Would he have to change his name because Jimmy McGill was disbarred? Any of these scenarios could have been fascinating to watch. Here, the show reveals exactly how it occurs. It's pretty brilliant because of it's simplicity as well. Jimmy is looking for work during his one year suspension. He doesn't want anything to change between him and Kim. He still has ad time that he bought. He can't promote himself as a lawyer. Nor can he become an infomercial guy simply selling a ton of random projects. So, he creates Saul Goodman in the heat of the moment to make a commercial selling advertising. It's a fitting introduction. One that startles Kim and surprises the audience. She sees it as a fun, over-the-top performance while we all know the trajectory all of this is headed towards.

It's fitting that commercials created Saul Goodman. As a lawyer, Saul is known for his catchy commercials. Even when he becomes Cinnabon Gene, he watches them and reminisces about the life that used to be. They are comfortable to him despite how outrageous they are. That's apparent in the very first one. It's put together quickly and sloppily. Jimmy has a deadline to meet otherwise he'll be out a ton of money. It's expensive to maintain the life he's been living. He can no longer air commercials promoting his legal services or afford the office space with Kim. He's doing all of this in the service of that ultimate goal. When the year suspension is up, he wants to return to this office with Kim and Francesca and resume being a lawyer for the elderly. This show has highlighted his charm and passion in that type of law. He really cares about them. But this hour shows the frustrations that go along with it. He can no longer give them the services they need and doesn't know how to explain why not well. He's a man searching for purpose. He finds it with Saul Goodman, a man with a goatee and many star wipes in his commercial. He doesn't plan on becoming that man and using those over-the-top theatrics as a lawyer for criminals. But it's going to be a long year for him - especially given how slow this show is paced. So, the feud with Chuck may still be the thing that forces Jimmy McGill into becoming Saul Goodman.

Elsewhere, "Off Brand" spends a considerable amount of time on the show's least developed character, Nacho. He has importance later on in this story but the creative team have kept delaying and delaying that into later on in the show's run. He disappears for long stretches of time. He's a series regular but only makes a couple of sporadic appearances each season. This hour defines how miserable he is with his life right now. He's an effective enforcer for the Salamanca drug operation. But taking Tuco out didn't have the effect he was hoping for. Instead, it just gave him a new boss in Hector. One who is capable of making his life just as miserable. Nacho is tired and stuck in this life. It's chilling to watch the cold open as he falls asleep at a sewing machine and accidentally stitches himself. It's a small moment that highlights his growing frustrations. He makes sure to keep the various aspects of his life separate from each other. He's a member of this drug operation but he's also a loyal son who wants his father far away from the illegal business. That may be impossible though because Hector sees something in Nacho and wants to use his father's shop as the new front for their criminal operation.

However, this hour nay be hinting at something more nefarious going on with Nacho and Hector as well. Nacho is destined to become infamous for something. And now, he sees his first inkling of something being wrong with Hector's health. He even manages to steal one of his pills. That comes immediately after their conversation about the new drug front. That understandably makes Nacho angry - especially after he made a major risk with Gus and had a gun pulled on him. He's still just the low man on the totem pole whose opinions aren't being heard and respected. He's responsible for this whole arrangement in the first place. And now, it's also confirmed that Tuco won't be getting released any time soon for good behavior. So, the timing could very well be right for Nacho to make another move for control. He could possibly attack Hector through his medication. That could be the thing that causes the stroke he is destined to have one day. It won't kill him but it will get him out of this business and allow someone like Nacho to step up. It's a world of possibilities for him. He just needs to commit to that path and cement his future. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Off Brand" was written by Ann Cherkis and directed by Keith Gordon.
  • Even more Breaking Bad alums show up this week. Krazy 8 appears as a drug dealer working for the Salamancas and gets a beating for not delivering his quota. And then, Lydia shows up as she's helping Gus look at industrial real estate that will one day become quite infamous in this story.
  • It's surprising to see Gus and Lydia together. They never had scenes on the original show (because she didn't show up until Season 5) but they had a relationship through this criminal enterprise. So of course, she would pop up on this series being very willing to help him.
  • The revolving shot at Stacey's grief support group is very impressive. It's powerful because it's building to the reveal that Mike is there with her listening to everything she is saying about his son and the life they used to have. He may not care for all of this but he will support her no matter what. 
  • Mike would be so much happier as a carpenter. Stacey signs him up to help rebuild the playground at the church. That leads to a curious detail about the dynamic he had with his son. Was the story Stacey shares simply not true because it was a hopeful projection of what Mike should have been as a father? Or was it an experience that didn't leave any impression on Mike but meant so much to his son?
  • Rebecca is still in town wanting to help Chuck now that she knows about his mental illness. She pleads to Jimmy but he just doesn't care. That selfish and vindictive reaction shows that he is so close to being Saul Goodman right now.
  • Of course, it's ultimately Howard who gets Chuck to find a way forward from all of this. It's enough motivation for Chuck to go out on the streets of Albuquerque to make a phone call to his doctor. That could be a powerful first step to recovery.